"Back by popular demand, "The Polar Express: An IMAX 3D Experience" is returning this holiday season for an EXCLUSIVE IMAX-only engagement. Audiences will become totally immersed in the IMAX 3D presentation, digitally re-mastered using proprietary IMAX 3D DMR technology... grasping at falling snowflakes, ducking as the train screeches into their lap and feeling the howl of the steam whistle via state-of-the-art digital surround sound. " http://movies.yahoo.com
The movie opens with the narrator remembering a Christmas from long ago when he was a young boy who was doubting the existence of Santa Claus. The boy (Boy) is in bed on Christmas Eve listening for the sound of Santa's sleigh bells. He thinks he hears the bells and goes downstairs to investigate. He finds that it is his father, with a Santa hat, getting a drink for his little sister. He goes back to bed just as his parents are checking on him. Thinking he is asleep, they comment that this may be the year that he does not believe and and how sad when the magic is gone. The Boy falls asleep but wakes up as a bright light appears outside his window and the entire house begins to rattle. Running outside, he finds a train pulled up along aside his house. The conductor tells him it is the Polar Express and is going to the North Pole. After some hesitation, the Boy jumps on board just as the train is pulling out.
On board the train, the Boy finds other children also going to the North Pole, including a young girl and a know it all little boy. The conductor asks for the Boy's ticket and tells him to look in his pocket of his nightgown. He first puts his hand in on the right side but the pocket is torn open. He then puts it in his left pocket and finds a ticket. The conductor punches the children's tickets. On the know it all are punched the letters "LE". The girl's ticket is also punched with the letters "LE". The Boy's ticket is punched with the letters "BE". The conductor also tells them that one lucky child will have the honor of getting the first present handed out by Santa himself.
The train also stops "on the other side of the tracks" to pick up a poor little boy. He declines to come but then, at the last moment, decides to come along. He falls while chasing the train and the Boy, seeing this from the train, pulls the emergency brake to stop the train and let the poor boy on the train. The conductor appears to be upset over this until he finds out that it was done to let the poor boy on the train.
Refreshments are then given out by dancing acrobatic waiters. The girl hides her hot chocolate under her seat and, when the waiters are gone, takes it in the next compartment for the poor boy. The Boy notices that she forgot her ticket and steps outside to take it to her. The ticket flies out of his hand by the wind. When the Conductor finds out she does not have her ticket, he takes her out of the compartment. The know it all boy says that they are going to throw her off the train. The Boy then sees that her ticket has flown back into the train. He takes the ticket and steps outside to the top of the train as he thinks he sees the Conductor and the girl on top of the train. What he finds instead is a hobo (or the ghost of a hobo) who helps he get to the engine. There the boy finds the girl who has not been thrown off but is helping the drive the train while the engineer and stoker are changing a light bulb in the front of the train. The train has to stop because of caribou on the train but finally gets underway with the Boy, the girl, and the conductor outside in the front of the train. The cotter pin in the lever controlling the engine's speed is lost and the train begins to accelerate, going down a roller coaster like hill. The Boy almost falls off but is saved by the mysterious hobo. Later, the conductor remembers that on his first ride with the train he almost fell over board but was saved by a mysterious presence (which leads you to believe that the conductor may be an older version of the Boy). After some more thrills, including the train going across a frozen lake which breaks up and almost takes the Polar Express, they finally arrive at the North Pole. The city, looking vaguely medieval. is all lit up but deserted as all the people (elves) are at the center of the city awaiting for Santa to take off.
As the children are lining up to go the city, the Boy and the girl notice that the poor boy is still on the train. They go back on board and convince him that even though, in his words, Christmas just doesn't work for him, that he should still come out. Just then, the compartment decouples and starts moving backwards. The Boy, with some help from the Hobo, manages to stop the compartment. They then make their way back guided by the sounds of bells which the girl and the poor boy can hear but which the Boy cannot hear. After going through a tube and a slide, they end up on the very top of a huge pile of presents in a huge bag. The poor boy finds a present for him in the stack. They also find the know it all who has followed them. They are taken in the bag to the center of the town and then get out and join the other children awaiting the appearance of Santa Claus. The Boy can neither see Santa nor hear the bells which are being put on the sleigh. One of the bells break off and lands near the Boy. He says that he does believe and ring the bell which he now hears. Santa then comes up to the children and the Boy gives the bell back to Santa. Santa then chooses the Boy as the child to get the first present. The Boy asks for the bell which Santa gives to him but the Boy puts in in the right pocket with the hole in it.
Santa then flies off and the children begin to get back into the train. As they do so, the conductor begins to punch the tickets. On the know it all, he punches the letters "ARN" to make the word "LEARN". On the girl's, he adds "AD" to make the word "LEAD" (as in leader). In the Boy's, he types "LIEVE" to make the word "BELIEVE". The Boy then notices that he had lost the bell but it is too late as the train is pulling out. The poor boy is dropped off at his house and discovers that his present is already there. The Boy gets off the train and is told by the the conductor that sometimes what counts in the decision to get on board.
The Boy is woken up the next morning (Christmas morning) by his little sister. The very last present they find is to the Boy. It is the bell that he lost and is accompanied by a note from Santa. The Boy's parents cannot hear the bell but the Boy and his sister can hear it. The narrator notes that at first his friends could hear the bell but, one by one, they stopped being able to hear it. He says that one day, even his sister could not hear it. He closes by saying that he is now an old man but that he can still hear the bell, loud and clear.
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